The Museum Of London's Most Unusual Exhibits

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 8 months ago
The Museum Of London's Most Unusual Exhibits
The Victorian shopfronts

The Museum of London was formed in 1976 by a merger of the Guildhall Museum (unsurprisingly held at Guildhall) and the London Museum (at Kensington Palace). It was part of an exciting new housing complex in the heart of London, the Barbican. Here's an artist's impression of how the new museum would look:

Illustrated News Group, British Newspaper Archive

Here's a shot of how the museum ended up looking (note, the guest crawling around the outside of the rotunda was not a permanent addition).

Photo: Paul Hudson

The museum is filled with fantastic exhibits from the city's lengthy history; even some from before London was London. Here are a few of our favourites and the background behind them.

Shopfronts

One of the museum's highlights are the Victorian shopfronts. This exhibit gives little guidance to the visitor; the store windows aren't accompanied by any descriptions. Instead, punters are left alone to marvel at the fantastic level of detail. This resistance to hand-holding is a bold move by the museum, but it leads many to overlook that these were all real shopfronts, saved from demolition in the 1960s and 70s. We do, however, have to question whether these two Space Invaders are Victorian originals as well:

Bone ice skating

Londoners loved ice skating before Somerset House. As far back as the 1100s people took to skidding around, usually over London's frozen marshland. Moorfields was a popular spot according to William Fitz Stephen. For skates they used bones from the lower limbs of cattle and horses, attached to their feet with leather thongs.

First written evidence of London

Tablet from 160 AD

The museum holds a tablet from 160 AD, a religious dedication and was excavated at a site believed to be a temple to Mars Camulos. It's the earliest example of the word London in writing (or to be precise 'Londiniensi'). The tablet was written by Tibernius Celerianus who identifies himself as both part of the Belgian tribe Bellovaci and a Londoner. He goes onto claim that he is the first Londoner to ever... and that's where the tablet breaks. We wonder if he was self-aware, claiming to be the first Londoner ever to write down the word London. Quite the claim to fame.

Museum cats

Museum of London Docklands' mummified cat and mouse

What do the Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands have in common? Apart from the obvious, they both have great exhibits starring cats. The Museum of London has Oliver, a stuffed black cat showcasing the 19th century's turn towards keeping pets.

Head east to the Museum of London Docklands and you'll find another cat from the same era, but this one hasn't held up quite so well. The museum is in an old warehouse, where cats were allowed to run around freely to try and control pests like mice. This one was found mummified along with its dinner.

Human billboard

Stanley Green's billboard

Stanley Green went on a 25 year crusade against protein. From 1968 up until his death in 1993, Green spent his time patrolling Oxford Circus with the above billboard attached to himself, preaching about the benefits of eating less of the stuff. If he'd made it to the present day, he'd probably be pretty impressed to see so many young Londoners are vegans, forgoing many of the products he disdained.

Lollipop lady

Sheila Gallagher's uniform

The Museum of London's collection is continually expanding. In 2017 it opened a small display called Careful Crossings, on how London coped with an influx of motorised vehicles and keeping roads safe. The highlight of the exhibition is a traditional 'Lollipop Lady' uniform.

The uniform on display isn't a replica. It belonged to Sheila Gallagher MBE. She helped children attending City of London School cross Queen Victoria Street safely between 1991 and 2010. Her official title was School Crossing Patrol Officer. She was the last ever one — her role became redundant in 2010. In 2004,  then-Mayor Ken Livingstone thanked her for 'an outstanding contribution to London life', and she received an MBE from the Queen. She died in 2016.

Last Updated 01 March 2017